Today, I have come up with an awesome engineering project, ‘Build a Balloon Powered Car’. In this project, we are going to learn about Newton’s Third Law and how it is applied to design propulsion vehicles such as cars or rockets etc.

What makes a rocket move? What makes a car move? Have you ever think of the mechanism or technology or scientific principles that make a massive thing move? Ask these questions to your children or students and let them have a guess such that children will also get hold of their thinking skills. You may get answers from your kids like fuel, oil, diesel, engine, gasoline etc. But actually there is some physics involved in running cars and rockets by burning fuels. What does a Newton’s Third Law says? Is there any relation between our project and Newton’s Third Law? Absolutely yes. Newton’s third law says that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. We are going to prove the science behind this simple engineering project using Newton’s Third Law.

To understand how Newton’s Third Law is applied to massive things get in motion, we took ‘building a balloon powered car’ as a challenge. Also, we used very simple supplies easily available around our home to relate Newton’s Third Law and its application to motion.

Abstract

Do you think of running a car powered using air? A balloon powered car works by nothing just air! Yes, it is fun and easy to build a balloon powered car that travels as far as possible just using air pressure created on its back from the balloon. To bring our idea of building balloon powered car in to reality, just grab the supplies listed here and get ready.

Objective

Design and build your own balloon-powered car that will travel as far and fast as possible.

Age

This simple and classic engineering project is best suitable for middle school and up.

Safety concerns and Tips

  • Build the car as light as possible so that it would be easy for the motion using little pressure.
  • The balloon should rest on the car and not the floor when blown up.
  • Since we are using scissors, get an adult help or supervision.

Materials Required

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Key Questions

1) What happens when you blow the balloon bigger?

2) How can you make the car travel further or take off faster?

Instructions to follow to build a Balloon Powered Car

Step-1: Use the ruler to measure equal sized wooden skewers in order to arrange wheels to our car. Once the measurement is done, cut the wooden skewers using scissors. But make sure the thickness of wooden skewers is less or thin to hold the axles of the car. You can also use straws instead of wooden skewers.

Step-2: Now, it is time to build base or frame for our balloon powered car. I chose to build the base using a plastic cup which came with our mushroom packing since the plastic feels light and easy to manage to our required shapes. You can also use plastic bottles as it is easy to collect water bottles anywhere around the home. If you do not have empty water bottles in the home, you can buy at pharmacies and grocery stores or at any business supply store. It is not too expensive to buy a plastic water bottle. The other alternatives to plastic are rigid card board or a foam material sandwiched between very stiff papers.

So, once you choose your base material, cut out the plastic base in to required and appropriate measurements that are calculated according to the measurements of wooden skewers.

Step-3: Then, securely tape the wooden skewers to the bottom of the plastic base on either sides such that they hold the axles. Make sure the two wooden skewers are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the center line of the base as fit as possible.

Step-4: Attach the four smiley wheels made out of foam material, of same model and same size to the ends of the wooden skewers on either sides of the car. Such that there are four endings to the wooden skewers and attaching four smiley wheels to the four endings. Now, our car is ready perform our investigation.

Step-5: Picka balloon andcut the ring (a mouth piece used to inflate a balloon) off of the balloon using scissors. This step is so crucial because our goal is to insure a tight seal to the straw in the next Step.

Step-6: Now, pick a straw and insert the balloon in to the straw for about 5cm. Use duct tape to fix the balloon air tight inside the straw. The duct tape should touch both the straw and the balloon for a couple of tight, spiral wraps.

Step-7: Make a hole at the rear end of the plastic base and insert the other free end of the straw into it for about 3/4th length of the straw. Make sure the size of the hole is of the width of the straw circumference such that the straw fits exactly in to the hole and do not slips away while the car is in motion.

Step-8: Turn the base so the straw’s free end is at the bottom. Twist the straw a little bit and turn it little towards the rear end of the car. That’s it! You are done with the setup of this engineering project.

Step-9: Now it is time to provide fuel to the car! Do not confuse! I am talking about the energy to be given by inflating the balloon. Block the straw as you set up on the start point and then release it when you’re ready to roll. Potential energy created inside the balloon by inflating it will start converting in to kinetic energy, Newton’s Third Law of Motion kicks in, and your racer car screams down the track!  

See How you can build fastest paper airplane

How does it work?

The science behind the Balloon-Powered Car is so simple but impressive. When the inflated balloon is released, the air from the balloon rushes in to the straw because of the pressure created. This is our car’s propulsion system. Here, we also bring the concept of Newton’s Third Law in to picture. As the Newton’s Third Law says, ‘For every action there is an opposite reaction’. In case of our engineering project, ‘Baloon-Powered Car’, the action is “air rushing from the straw and pushing against the air behind the car” while the reaction is “air rushed behind the car through the straw pushing against the car with the same force causing the car in motion towards forward movement”.

The moving Balloon-Powered Car is using potential or stored energy stored inside the inflated balloon and when the balloon releases air, the energy changes to kinetic energy. Upon release of air from the balloon, the stored energy converts to kinetic energy, which makes the car move and the car will be in motion until there’s not enough energy or air pressure to move it anymore.

Let us talk about the axles! The rounder the wheels, the better the car moves forward in a straight line. So, it is very crucial to arrange the axles of the car with appropriate measurements. The parallel axles and the perpendicular wheels to the plastic base means the car will travel forward in a straight line and not stop or stuck and lose energy doing so. Also, centering the round wheel on the axle means it rolls evenly without a wobble or an up and down movement. Hence, it is proved that our balloon powered car is a good example of Newton’s third law of motion. 

Wow! There’s a lot of physical science packed into this simple design!

Further Information

We can observe and realise Newton’s third law of motion in sports!! For example, while swimming in the swimming pool, the swimmer’s stroke pushes on the water and the water pushes back on the swimmer pushing him/her forward. In the same way, while kicking a football, the foot pushes on the ball and the ball pushes on the foot in the opposite direction with the same amount of force. You can also see this in action with a bottle rocket.

Extension Activities

The best part in this science project is we can change the variables and extend the experiment using other supplies and other ideas of investigation. Such ideas may include:

1) Try adding more weight to the car and check whether it is getting slow in its speed or not. In fact, it should slow down! Such that you can validate on ‘How many passengers can it carry and still move’?

2) Try checking with light weighed car base and heavily made car base and follow the same instructions. Check, does both the cars run with the same speed or not?

3) You can create various fun designs and colors on your car to really make it your own and interesting.

4) You can try investigating Newton’s Third Law of Motion by changing the size of the wheels just to determine how that alignment of different sized wheels might affect the direction and distance of your car travels.

5) Trim the propulsion straw or test different sizes to see which exhaust system supplies the most thrust.

6) Also try different balloons and straws as well as differently inflated balloons to find the ideal combination for the best speed (speed = distance divided by time).

7) Decorate your car with some accessories which keeps a little weight on the car and ask your kids to have races with the cars made by your siblings or friends. Try to figure out which car moves faster and why one car goes faster or farther than another.

What are the key concepts learned in this easy and cool science experiment?

This is an engineering project easy to set up and investigate a few most important physical science concepts. The experimentlooks so simple but it involves a lot of science in it using simple supplies available around the home. Let us learn what those science concepts involved in this experiment are:

1) Newton’s laws of motion

2) Conservation of energy

3) Potential Energy

4) Kinetic Energy

5) Physics

6) Motion and Force

7) Air Pressure

Trouble Shooting

Firstly, you may get success in doing this simple experiment or may get failed to run the balloon powered car. There are many reasons that cause your own car not to get in motion, which includes: particularly if its axles are not parallel or the wheels wobble, your balloon may not be thoroughly attached to the straw, the balloon may not sat on the car when inflated instead on the floor, too much friction can cause the wheels to get stuck, and the balloon will not be powerful enough to push the car forward, make sure there are no leaks while fixing the balloon and straw using tape, check the wheel are moving freely, make sure no air escapes from the balloon, check there is enough room in the holes where wooden skewers are inserted to rotate freely, the motion of car wheels must be smooth and free because if the wooden skewers get stuck, your car will not move forward.

So check all the related issues if any and fix properly if necessary. If all else fails make the car as light as possible!

Discussion Questions

1)What forces propelled the car move forward?

2) What are the two types of energies used to get the car in motion?

3) What happened when you release the air in the balloon?

FAQ’s

What forces act on a balloon powered car?

Mainly, two forces are involved and acting on the balloon powered car such as: Air Resistance and Friction. The friction force is the resistance between two objects sliding against each other. While building your car, you need to observe and identify the appropriate places where two objects are rubbing against each other creating friction. Air resistance refer to the forces that are in opposition directions to the relative motion of an object as it passes through the air. When the air inside the balloon is released, the released air travels out rapidly backwards, causing a reaction force that pushes the balloon forward. This principle is stated by Newton’s third law of motion.

What makes a balloon powered car go faster?

Balloon-powered car goes faster depending on the scientific concepts like potential energy stored, kinetic energy released, air resistance and pressure created by the inflated balloon, and the frictional force. The main factors that make the car slow down include inefficient use of the air escaping the balloon, own weight of the car, etc. Reducing weight, cutting motion, minimizing drag, and improving nozzle air flow will help your balloon-powered car go faster.

How do you make a balloon car go straight?

Inserting and fixing two axles play major role in running a balloon powered car straight. Poke two holes measuring exact size of the wooden skewers circumference on to the plastic bottle cap wheels and attach bottom of the car. Make sure the holes are made directly across from each other such that the axle goes straight across and slide a straw through the two holes. Adjust so the axle goes straight across.

How does Newton’s 3rd law apply to a balloon car?

According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When it comes to our balloon powered car, as the air is released backward out of the inflated balloon, it pushes against the outside air, and pushes the car forward in the opposite direction with an equal force. As a result, the balloon car is propelled forward by the opposing force. This opposing force is referred as thrust.

What is the purpose of balloon powered car?

The main purpose of performing the balloon powered car experiment is to prove and learn Newton’s Third of Motion in a practical and fun way. This means we are going to learn about an equal and opposite reaction. In this experiment, when the air pushes back, the propelling force is created against the outside pressure of the air which makes the car move forward. This is the same principle used in real and massive vehicles, rockets, and jets that shoot a high-speed stream of gases out the back of their engines, propelling the vehicle forward.

Why does my balloon car not move?

Firstly, you may get success in doing this simple experiment or may get failed to run the balloon powered car. There are many reasons that cause your own car not to get in motion, which includes: particularly if its axles are not parallel or the wheels wobble, your balloon may not be thoroughly attached to the straw, the balloon may not sat on the car when inflated instead on the floor, too much friction can cause the wheels to get stuck, and the balloon will not be powerful enough to push the car forward, make sure there are no leaks while fixing the balloon and straw using tape, check the wheel are moving freely, make sure no air escapes from the balloon, check there is enough room in the holes where wooden skewers are inserted to rotate freely, the motion of car wheels must be smooth and free because if the wooden skewers get stuck, your car will not move forward.

So check all the related issues if any and fix properly if necessary. If all else fails make the car as light as possible!

What can I use as wheels for a balloon powered car?

The materials used as wheels for a balloon powered car are:
1) CD’s                                                                                                                 
2) Four Smiley Foam Wheels
3) Candy mints (with a hole in the middle)
4) Card board circles
In this experiment, we used foam material to make wheels of equal size.

How do you make a balloon car out of cardboard?

Here are the simple step-by-step instructions to make a balloon car out of cardboard:
Step-1: Cut a 3 by 6-inch (7.62 by 15.24 centimetre) rectangle out of cardboard
Step-2: Cut two 3-inch (7.62 centimetre) pieces from a straw
Step-3: Tape the straws to the cardboard
Step-4: Cut two 4-inch (10.16-centimeter) pieces from a wooden skewer
Step-5: Slide the skewers into the straws
Step-6: To make the wheels, use large coins or bottle caps to trace four circles onto a sheet of cardboard. Cut the circles out using a pair of scissors and make the circles as even as you can. Use circles are used as wheels for the balloon powered car.
Step-7: Attach the wheels to the skewers
Step-8: Tuck a straw into a balloon and tape it in place and tape the straw to the top of your car
Step-9: Now you are ready with your own balloon car made out of cardboard!
Inflate the balloon using the straw and pinch the straw shut so that the air doesn’t escape. Place the car on a smooth, flat surface and let go of the straw and watch the car go!

What type of energy is stored in a balloon?

Balloons are elastic and store potential or stored energy when they are inflated with air. When the air is released, the potential energy stored inside the balloon is converted into the energy of motion. The energy in motion is known as kinetic energy.  

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